With his easy charm and upbeat spirit, David Osmond is a natural connector—through both his music and his innate talent for bringing people together.
Take the way he met his wife.
While waiting for a flight on New Year’s Day, Osmond caught sight of beautiful, blonde Valerie McClain on the dance floor at the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel. As the two made eye contact, she thought she recognized him. “Are you in my ward?” she asked. (A ward is a Latter-day Saint congregation similar in size to a Catholic parish.) “No, but I wish I were,” he replied.
The two talked for a while, and afterward, David asked for her phone number. She said no. Later that night, she turned down his request a second time. With his trademark determination, he waited a bit and approached Valerie a third time.
“Look, I don’t know if you’re with somebody, but I can’t leave here without your phone number,” David told her. “If you just say it, I’ll memorize it.”
He still knows the number by heart. “It took us three months to connect, but as soon as we did, it was game over,” he recalls.
A Devastating Diagnosis
David and Valerie had been dating for about five months when he faced a health crisis that seemed to come out of nowhere.
Singing in a 2005 Christmas Eve musical performance, David never imagined that he would experience a life-altering challenge later that night. After arriving home, he took off his shoes.
“Something’s wrong here,” he told Valerie.
He felt crushing pressure—as if a steamroller were running over his feet. Reasoning that he only slept two hours the night before, he hoped that the hurt would fade away. Yet as days—and then weeks—passed, the intense pain remained. First, the pain moved up to his knees. Then it reached his waist and then his chest.
“From the chest down, that crushing sensation I felt was everywhere,” he recalls. “My vision was like TV static. I could hardly move my hands.”
Despite his pain, it took a while for him to realize how serious his condition was. A doctor who x-rayed him diagnosed him with pinched nerves in his back. At first, David tried to remedy the condition with trips to the gym, but he kept tripping, and then falling. Then he used a cane. Within a matter of months, he was in a wheelchair.
“I had paralysis to the point where I couldn’t even move my toes,” he says.
Ultimately, his sunny spirit and dedication kept him pushing forward in hopes of proceeding with his incredibly busy life. Preparing for a show where he would be the lead singer with his brothers, he traveled to Las Vegas with Valerie as his caregiver.
“I was stuck on a couch. I hid out from people,” David recalls.
He told himself he would be fine even as he dragged himself across the floor.
“They carried me up and put me at the back of the stage. They gave me a guitar that I faked playing.”
At the same time, he canceled some events, thinking, “I’ll just work through this with exercise.”
But the pain didn’t stop. Finally, a doctor told him, “This looks like multiple sclerosis.” Multiple sclerosis, meaning “many scars,” is a disease in which the immune system eats away at the protective covering of one’s nerves. The resulting nerve damage disrupts communication between the brain and the body. As a result, multiple sclerosis causes many different symptoms, including vision loss, pain, fatigue, and impaired coordination.
A Family Affair
David immediately knew what that term meant. His dad, Alan Osmond—founder of the famous Osmond Brothers singing group—has had his own multi-decade battle with multiple sclerosis, or MS.
“In the ’90s, he started tripping and falling. He couldn’t do the things he wanted to, and it became dangerous for him to be on stage,” David recalls. “As his body started to slow down, he struggled.”
But despite his struggles, Alan Osmond has taken to heart a phrase that David calls his dad’s “bumper sticker”: I may have MS, but MS does not have me.
“He’s very positive and a total optimist,” David says. “He told me personally, ‘My body might have MS, but my spirit doesn’t, and it’s soaring.’”
David remembers when his dad received a call from a “trash” magazine before he retired from the stage.
“They said, ‘Alan, we know that you have MS. You are going to do a story with us.’ They held that over him,” David says. So, Alan called his good friend Annette Funicello, who also had MS. As a famous actress familiar with the tabloids, she suggested that he come out with his story himself because “it would be a strength to other people.” So, he called Entertainment Tonight, and they produced a segment about him and his condition.
After his own diagnosis, David watched his brother and his brother’s kids playing together. Then he looked over at Valerie. By then, they wanted to marry and have a family. But could that still happen now?
A New Generation
Thoughts of a family brought warm memories to David’s mind. When he was a little boy, his house was filled with fun things to do and play with, including set pieces from the Donny & Marie television show.
“At Christmas, we had all these awesome trees that we would decorate our house with. There was fun stuff in our basement—costumes and instruments,” he recalls.
When David was 2 years old, the basement was also where his father constructed a rehearsal hall.
“He built it after he saw four of us singing together. We started doing harmony—picking out parts on our own.”
Seeing his sons’ natural tendency for music, Alan taught them four-part barbershop harmony, along with the same routines that he and his brothers had performed on The Andy Williams Show decades before. In the early ’80s, David became the lead singer of their quartet, The Osmond Boys, singing with his three brothers, Michael, Nathan, and Douglas. He was just 4 years old when they began performing full time.
“We did talent shows, church groups, and neighborhood things,” he remembers.
Soon, Eugene Jelesnik invited the young quartet to perform on Talent Showcase, a TV show on the local television channel KSL. Word of their talent spread, and the boys caught the attention of one very prominent star: Bob Hope.
Hope invited them to appear on his national Christmas special. After that, People, CBS This Morning, and Good Morning America all featured them, and their performance schedule was packed.
The Osmond Boys later transformed into a boy band, The Osmonds 2nd Generation, and they toured with other bands like New Kids on the Block. David and his brothers signed with Epic, Sony, and Curb Records and began touring worldwide.
“We sang in other languages. I don’t speak Japanese, but I sing it,” says David, breaking into a brief rendition of a commercial his family made for Japan’s Sumitomo Bank. “I don’t know what I’m singing, but it sounds great.”
Growing Up Osmond
In the 1990s, David’s uncle Jimmy Osmond opened the Osmond Family Theater in Branson, Missouri, and David’s family soon followed.
“It was quite a new experience going from living near the Wasatch mountains to moving near the Ozark mountains,” says David. “It was nice to be able to work together. We could do what we loved without having to travel as much.”
Around age 12, David began to notice how different his upbringing was compared to his peers.
“There were opportunities that I didn’t realize were unusual back then,” he says. “For a while, I assumed that every dad did show business.”
Growing up in a world of TV studios and tour buses, it became normal for the family to do two shows a day, six days a week. On breaks, they traveled internationally. And David attended a different high school every semester. Then, at age 18, David was hired to replace his uncle Donny Osmond in the lead role as Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat on the national Broadway tour. Playing Joseph in various companies for five years, he also began to receive solo opportunities. After his Broadway debut, David started writing and performing his own pop music.
His career led him to the West Coast 16 years ago, where he settled in Los Angeles, and it was there that his MS diagnosis took away his music for a season.
A New Take on Life
While Alan Osmond’s MS is the primary progressive variety, David’s is what is called the relapsing and remitting type.
“It attacks and then goes dormant,” he explains. “It’s like a roller coaster and very unpredictable.”
David traveled to a facility in Mexico for treatment. When the doctor there observed his MS antibodies after several MRIs and a brain scan, he said, “Son, you have been through the war. This disease is aggressive, and the damage is significant.”
As a temporary solution to treat the advanced symptoms, doctors administered a steroid drug that halted his overactive immune system, which prevented the MS from attacking David’s brain. Simultaneously, David made dietary changes that included eating a raw food diet and adding supplements. After staying at the facility for a month, he lost 20 pounds. His toes started to move again, just a little bit.
“I will never forget that moment when my toes finally moved again. It was amazing. I wish I could gift that experience to everyone,” he says.
Before a month passed, David could get out of his wheelchair and shuffle around with a cane. After the initial steroid wore off, he returned to his wheelchair, and to his neurologist with a hopeful request: “I would like to walk on my wedding day. Is that possible?”
The doctor prescribed therapy and warned that the medication would wear off again. But in 2007, David achieved a major victory. “I’ve been walking since our wedding day,” he says, smiling gratefully. “If you don’t believe in miracles, I hope you’ll believe in one today, because you are absolutely looking at one.”
Smiling Through the Pain
Back on his feet—literally—David was grateful to be able to pick up his guitar, to have his voice back, and to stand on a stage and perform music. “I’m able to pursue my dream again with so much more conviction and passion,” he says. But the MS is still there.
“I feel it every second of every day,” David says. “The pain all over me. The fact that I can ‘hide’ it as well as I can is miraculous though.”
But David is committed to not complaining because pain comes to everyone at different degrees and intensities. He’s grown to understand that while pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.
“No matter our circumstances, we can’t ask, ‘Why did this happen to me?’ unless we also ask the same question about every moment of happiness and joy that comes into our lives,” he says.
Each step that David takes is a constant reminder to enjoy every single moment. Today, he sees the MS as a gift, one of the greatest things that ever happened to him, because of the perspective on life that he has acquired.
David is blessed with a boatload of performance memories. He’s sung with incredible musicians such as Stevie Wonder, Steven Tyler, Chicago, and The Eagles. He’s also appeared in unique places, including singing in the Tokyo Dome with 70,000 screaming girls, being on stage at Wembley Stadium, singing for Oprah at Harpo Studios, and sharing a stage with Earth Wind and Fire at The Rose Bowl. He’s particularly fond of his time touring as Joseph and loves being the Emmy-nominated host of Wonderama, an interactive children’s variety TV show where kids have a chance to perform and show off their talents. He also hosts KUTV’s Fresh Living on CBS in Salt Lake City each week.
In addition to his television appearances, David’s days are packed with a plethora of projects. He performs with his aunt, Marie Osmond. He is the chief relationship officer at TribeHouse, an exclusive business program designed to build high-level relationships between Utah’s top business leaders. He also relishes his latest music project—an incredible Big Band, The Osmond Chapman Orchestra, partnering with award-winning bandleader and sax player Caleb Chapman. They create a show filled with a blend of pop, swing, Broadway, blues, American Standards, and rockabilly.
And David supports MS charities, such as his recent appearance at the 28th Annual Race to Erase MS event in Los Angeles.
“MS is a terrible way to meet great people,” he says.
David is also looking ahead to a bright future filled with opportunities to spend time with Valerie and their three kids: Saffron, age 12; Azalea, age 10; and Everest, age 6.
“The days are fleeting, and I want to spend as much time with them as I can while they still think I’m kinda cool. Ha!” David laughs. “If I can be an example to them like my dad was for me, that is what I hope to do.”
Reflecting on his many roles, David says, “When you serve people and get outside yourself, the abundance mentality is there.”
“Find those who bring you joy and surround yourself there.”
► You’ll also like: Episode 51: The Power and Disposition to Smile with David Osmond